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OzAsia’s writing and ideas program celebrates outspokenness and diversity

Jennifer Wong, curator of OzAsia Festival’s writing and ideas program, talks with InReview about this year’s stellar line-up and why owning your narrative matters.

Sep 21, 2023, updated Sep 21, 2023
ook shopping at a previous year's In Other Words. Photo: Daniel Purvis

ook shopping at a previous year's In Other Words. Photo: Daniel Purvis

The line-up for OzAsia Festival’s writing and ideas program, In Other Words, will feature Miles Franklin Award winners, local storytellers and international authors over three days, from  November 3 to November 5. 

The program, released today, will explore important questions about race, power, community, gender, sexuality, family, and food across 27 free sessions which spotlight more than 60 new and distinguished writers and thinkers.

Jennifer Wong, writer, comedian and host of ABC’s Chopsticks or Fork, returns this year as the program’s curator. 

“This year, there were just so many brilliant debut Asian-Australian authors we wanted to celebrate,” Wong told InReview. “It just feels like there’s a certain freshness this time around, which has been really quite energising.”

André Dao, debut author of novel Anam, will be speaking alongside Dias Novita Wuri and Sheila Ngoc Pham about “making sense of the past” through story.

Shirley Le will chat about humour in her debut Funny Ethnics, with Nick Bhasin and Wong.

The program celebrates another first release with Simone Amelia Jordan, Australia’s most successful hip-hop journalist, who will discuss her debut memoir, Tell Her She’s Dreamin’ with DJ and producer, Krystel Diola

“We’ve teamed up with the Georgetown Literary Festival to celebrate 50 years of the Adelaide-Penang sister city relationship,” Wong says. “We’re really excited to have short story writers, Shih-Li Kow, Wan Phing Lim and Saras Manickam joining us. So there’s a real love of Malaysia in this program.”

Jennifer Wong. Photo: Naomi Jellicoe

The program’s only ticketed event places food centre stage, with Sarah Tiong and Poh Ling Yeow in conversation with Benjamin Law. Connected by their Malaysian heritage, the night promises mouthwatering reflections on what cooking and storytelling means to them. 

For lovers of science and fantasy fiction, the internationally acclaimed and Hugo award-winning Shelley Parker-Chan will discuss their eagerly awaited sequel, He Who Drowned the World. With Adolfo Aranjuez, Dr Quah Ee Ling and Lian Low, Parker-Chan will also discuss what it means to “bring one’s whole self to work” in “telling queer Asian stories”.

“There’s all kinds of stories from different parts of Asia that perhaps you wouldn’t see at a festival elsewhere,” Wong says. 

“We also have a story from Bhutan, which is Om Dhungel’s memoir, Bhutan to Blacktown, about moving from Bhutan to becoming a community leader in Western Sydney.”

Wong is joined by guest curators, Durkhanai Ayubi, Adelaide author of the beloved cookbook Parwana: Recipes and stories from an Afghan kitchen and Sami Shah, stand-up comedian and author of I, Migrant.

Shah will host a discussion with Karina Robles Bahrin, author of The Accidental Malay, and Shankari Chandran, the 2023 Miles Franklin winner for Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens, exploring how race and identity influences their writing. Sami is also starring in The Special Comedy Comedy Special on October 28. 

Ayubi will be hosting an apposite panel on “the Voice and South Asian activism”. She will also be leading a discussion about “owning your own narrative”, with Chandran, Mark Teh and Minh Bui Jones.

Wong thinks this one of the program’s most significant sessions. 

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“I get emotional talking about that session actually. When planning this, we had moments when we were both on Zoom, crying, just talking about that moment when you realise what you’re actually doing and why it matters.”

“You know, we may not always have the language to actually verbalise why it is important to do the work that we do, and why it is important that we have gatherings like In Other Words. This session will give people the language to do this.”

On the theme of ‘outspokenness’, the Opening Night Gala invites speakers to share memories of when they spoke up and used their own voice. 

“The stories that are often told about Asian Australians are that we are a ‘model minority’; that we are meek; and that we don’t speak up. I wanted to have an evening where we celebrate and normalise the idea of writers, thinkers, performers and artists speaking up. I want us to be in a room for one night, and for story after story, speaker after speaker, be inspired by instances – big and small – of people speaking up.”

“I think by virtue of publishing a book or a poem or a memoir, that is speaking up and saying I’m marking a spot for my story, and for the story of my family and my friends.”

The Closing Night debate offers a playful shift in tone as authors challenge each other on the idea of ‘The Tiger Parent’ to win the audience’s applause. 

“It will be a riot! You don’t realise how competitive these seemingly normal writers can be until you dangle in front of them the prospect of winning something by popular applause. We give them the permission to be as silly and as outrageous as possible.”

In Other Words will be held in Adelaide from November 3 to November 5 during the OzAsia Festival.

This article is republished from InReview under a Creative Commons licence. Read the original article.

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